January 14, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST

”Entourage”: The uses of friendship

Poor, lumpy Dom. He made it through prison. He found his way out to California. He mooched his way into a million-dollar lifestyle. But the incorrigible crook couldn’t make it in Hollywood. Our ex-con from Queens learned two important lessons on this episode, titled ”Guys and Doll.” First, loyalty has its limits. And second, in showbiz, thuggish behavior belongs on screen, not in the mansion.

To quickly sum up the fourth episode of the season: The Monday after Aquaman‘s boffo opening, Vince is fielding multimillion-dollar offers from the best and the brightest. As Ari describes them, the films are hilarious encapsulations of Hollywood pitch-speak. ”It’s Being There meets Lawrence of Arabia,” he barks. ”David O. Russell is directing.” Of course, the movie that Vince really wants — the Pablo Escobar biopic called Medellin — isn’t being offered. It needs to be chased. That’s what leads our six-man entourage up to Santa Barbara to the home of Medellin‘s backer, Phil Rubenstein, an ”animation king” played as a whiny, needy, insecure mogul by Bruno Kirby. It’s Vince’s job to charm Rubenstein into giving him the Escobar role, something he does with the help of — big surprise — Dom! But the same time that Dom is proving himself to be a savvy schmoozer, he’s also jacking Rubenstein’s prized Shrek doll, sending the producer into a Brian Wilson-esque fit of bed-ridden depression. Everyone suspects the ex-con, but Dom insists he didn’t do it. On one side, you’ve got the West Coast millionaires crying for blood, and on the other, you’ve got Vince fiercely protecting his ‘hood homey.

In the end, quite predictably, Dom admits that he stole the doll. (For no real reason except that he’s a recidivist thief and he loves the green ogre.) But what made the episode great was the way that Vince manipulated the situation throughout the entire show, proving himself to be the master thespian he’s supposed to be. First, Vinnie Boy boosts Dom’s ego just when he needs him. With the streetwise Dom at his side, he shows Rubenstein that he’s got the gritty, blue-collar background to play a drug kingpin. The next day, when it’s clear that Dom’s dumb theft might ruin his chances at snagging the role of a lifetime, he slices through Dom’s bluster like a knife through butter. With one penetrating look, Vince guilts Dom into admitting that yes, he stole the doll.

If you recorded this episode, go back and check out this scene again. It might be Adrian Grenier’s finest moment of actual acting in the entire three seasons. As Dom defends himself against Ari and the accusations, you can see Vince home in on Dom after his ”tell” (scratching his neck when he lies). From that point on, Vince is the predator, Dom is the prey, and he doesn’t have a chance of making it out of this unharmed. By the end of the scene, I was convinced; Vinnie Boy is an astute observer of people and of mannerisms, and a master manipulator who won’t let an old friend get in the way of his ambition. Dom is an unsympathetic goon, but he was so mismatched that I actually felt sorry for him.

And just like that, Dom is out. Culled from the crew with a generous severance — an apartment and a Hummer — and out of their lives (we think).

The episode ends with a cliffhanger revelation, nicely ratcheting up the tension for this week. So what do you think? Will Vince take Aquaman 2 or Medellin? Is he contractually obligated to take the sequel? Will he fight the studio on that? Is Dom gone for good? And once again, what happened to Sloan?

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